Ask not for whom the bell Knols – Duh! It’s Wiki.

It’s not often an online reference source gets blanket press coverage.

But then it’s not often that the web’s pre-eminent search engine appears to go head to head with the world’s most popular single source of knowledge.

Argument has been raging since last week as to the whys, wherefores and whataretheyuptos of Google’s new Knol service.

The Times led on the theme of Knol as a ‘community encyclopedia’ (I dare say some Wiki contributors might resent the implication by dis-association here).

There is no vetting process, although readers can rate articles – as they can rank stories on the “social news” service Digg.

The new system will allow contributors to monitize the fruits of their labour, in stark contrast with Wiki, which is an advertising free zone. So that’s yet another step towards infotainment then.

But over at The Independent, the ‘paid dues’ angle tickled resident Curmudgeon’s Curmudgeon Andrew Keen – who sounded a rare note of enthusiasm for something web 2.0.

…if you are a self-employed expert unwilling to freely donate your wisdom to Wikipedia, then Knol’s revenue sharing functionality will help pay the mortgage and feed the kids.

Note the invisible stress on the word help here – I wonder how many Knol articles it would take to buy a loaf of bread in the current economic climate.

The Telegraph picked up on a pressing theme for anyone concerned with monopolies in hyperspace:

Some have questioned whether Knol marks a shift in Google’s identity of “organising the world’s information” to creating and publishing information that could potentially compromise its neutrality in organising search results.

Jack Schofield at The Guardian drew the conspiratorial angle a touch more acute by questioning the purported neutrality in Google’s organisational operations when it comes to Knol results:

…some Knol pages with no visible backlinks already ranked highly in Google’s search results. This makes a mockery of the idea that Google results are based on some sort of meritocratic ideal where the great unwashed “vote” for quality sites by linking to them.

This hypothesis drew upon some expert digging from Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land – who found that a third of pages on the Knol homepage ranked high in Google search results – rather suspicious considering how new the source is, but perhaps less so given the media scrum (and possible linkage as a result).

Aside from concerns about bias in Google rankings toward Knol results (whether perceived or actual), an inescapably significant issue for journalists and researchers is the provenance and attribution of articles in their Knol search results.

Warming to this theme, an article in Techcrunch raised the spectre of Wiki becoming a victim of its’ own success (and open license):

Very soon we are going to see a lot of Wikipedia content moving wholesale to Knol. Wikipedia content is basically free to use, redistribute, copy, whatever, under the GNU license:

Anyone writing for Knol is likely to at least peruse Wikipedia content before publishing. And if they see anything good, they are at liberty to simply lift and copy it over to Knol, and get a adsense check for their time.

And so it rages on.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for the publishers of Encyclopedia Britannica. The groundbreaking news that they plan to open the 140-year-old source up to its readers this time last month, raised a half-hearted shrug amongst those who could be bothered to report it.

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